Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our worth is based on who we are, not on what we do.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-not the results of works, so that no one may boast."

Lloyd Ogilvie was a distinguished Presbyterian pastor who served as Chaplain to the United States Senate. In one of his books, he tells about the time he crushed his left leg in a bad fall.  For three months, he was bed ridden and in considerable pain.  Dr. Ogilvie says that he learned many lessons from that experience, including the following, expressed in his own words:  For the first time in my life, I was taken off the fast track.  I discovered that most of my security and identity were in what I accomplished for God - preaching sermons, writing books, and leading a church.  All of this identified my worth.  Well, what can you do when there's nothing to do but wait for healing?  For three months, I could put no weight on my leg.  During that difficult convalescence, I discovered in a new way that God loves me not for what I do but simply because I belong to him.  That realization liberated me.  I don't have to write books or lead a church in order to be loved by God."

Sometimes newly retired persons go through a real identity crisis when they leave the employment which provided them with such clear status and sense of worth for all those years.  But it should give such persons a real boost to know that their rating on God's stock market did not drop a single digit when they retired.

I see mothers get depressed when the last of their children leave home.  Of course, many mothers in that situation throw a party.  The depressed mothers may really be concerned about their own self-worth, their reason for being.  Those persons need to be reminded that God values them just as highly as when they had babies on their laps. When children are gone, these parents can channel their energies into other endeavors God has in mind for them.  They could even take on a ministry in their church!

This coming Labor Day weekend is a wonderful time to celebrate work, whether you do it for pay or as a volunteer.  If you're in a slot God intends for you, then enjoy the job satisfaction God gives.  The quality of our work is an advertisement of our God, so let's do it with a touch of class.  And remember, we are more than laborers.  We are children of the King of Kings whose love for us does not drop an iota when we clock out of work.

A nurse won the admiration of her little Appalachian mountain community with her patience, her cheerfulness, and her genuine concern for others.  Her salary was inadequate by any standard. One day a physician said to her, "Joan, why don't you get out of this backward little community and go where they will pay you a decent salary. God knows you are worth it." With a smile she answered, "If God knows I am worth it, that's all that matters to me."

He Cares for the Sparrow-So I know He Cares for Me!
"Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”  Luke 12:6-7

This verse promises us that God loves us enough to know even how many hairs we have on our heads.  It tells us that if he values a little bird enough to know when it falls, how much more valuable are we to Him?

God does love us in spite of our sin and knows how valuable we are even when others may not place much value in us.  The clothes we wear, the car we drive and the job we have do not make us the person we are.  The person we are comes from the heart and God knows us inside and out.  He sees our heart. 

Scripture to Claim:
That's how much you mean to me! That's how much I love you! I'd sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you.  Isaiah 43:4

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Our work is a reflection on Christ

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.  Ecclesiastes 9:10

Your ultimate boss is never another person. You work for yourself and your God.  If you can wax a floor well, the shine on that floor declares the glory of God and puts in a good word for you, too.   Some of us are in management positions and the way we manage, advertise and compete reflects on our God.

God has been active from the beginning

The Bible is a pro-work document. Remember, work was not assigned to Adam as a punishment for sin.  Human beings were put to work before they sinned.  Genesis 2:15 tells us Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.  After Adam and Eve sinned, work became more difficult. Thorns and thistles frustrated Adam's farming.  His work required more sweat and toil.  But work itself is no punishment from sin.  It is a good thing.

Jesus, the perfect reflection of God, also worked.  We are created in the image of God and in our work we reflect God.  Jesus tells us in John 9:4 "We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

Work, not idleness, is the glory of God.  When we display a work ethic we are a reflection of God’s glory.  Things such as goodness, honesty, faithfulness, integrity and excellence all reflect the character of God in our lives.    

We should view all of our tasks, jobs or work as service to God.  Martin Luther understood this:
"The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays -- not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors.  The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on his shoes, but by making good shoes because God is interested in good craftsmanship."

Is God really concerned about good craftsmanship?  Take a look at the world around us!  View the intricate design of the wings of birds so they can fly, the remarkable engineering of the eye to see, a sun just the right distance and size and a moon just the right size, distance, speed for tides.  The world is full of all kinds of remarkable craftsmanship from God.  Aren't you glad God is a good craftsman?  If God is concerned with good craftsmanship, we should be as well.

We also reflect the character of God in how we do our work.

This is why I like to remind young people that school is service to God.  Moral behavior as well as doing your best and getting good grades are all a reflection of God’s character in you!  When you study, do homework and get excellent grades this is a reflection on family, church, and God.
When you go to work and get a job, it is the same thing.  Not only your moral character, but how you perform your job speaks of God’s influence in your life.  When you work faithfully and do your job well it is a reflection of God in you.  Good work is a reflection of the God we serve.  Think about it...when people watch you perform your job, do they have reason to think more highly of your God?

Scripture to Claim:
…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:13

Monday, August 29, 2011


"All to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil - this is the gift from God." Ecclesiastes 5:19

Isn’t it amazing how God calls and equips people for their various vocational tasks.  Walk through a nursing home and watch devoted nurses caring for elderly persons who no longer have their rational capacities. I wonder how they can do it, but I see that they are fulfilled in their work. That's a gift of God. Watch roofing and highway construction personnel pouring hot tar on days when the temperature is above 100 degrees.  Most of these construction workers seem oblivious to the harsh conditions; lots of them sing a country song as they work. The majority actually like their jobs.  Of course, some people regard my profession as one they would never be able to do.  And when I tell them how amazing it is to me that I actually get paid to do what I always wanted to do anyway, they look at me as if I have been in the sun too long!

John LaBissoniere, a minister in Tennessee, tells this story:
"It was a beautiful late summer afternoon in 1960 and my dad had just returned home from work with a recent issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Opening the magazine he said, 'John, take a look at this.' He then pointed to an advertisement showing a photo of a shiny, new bicycle. The caption read, 'Sell just ten subscriptions to The Saturday Evening Post and receive this beautiful bicycle!'  Dad then said, 'John, this would be a great opportunity. I'm sure you could sell these subscriptions.' During the succeeding days I spent hours canvassing in our neighborhood and beyond in a search for potential subscribers. With my dad's help I was finally able to earn my new bicycle.  From that experience as an 11-year-old boy, I found that much fulfillment came from working hard to accomplish a goal. Even so, there were important things I didn't yet understand about work, including just why is work so important and for whom are we really working.  The bicycle I worked to obtain helped me discover a lot about myself and what it would take to be successful later in the adult world of employment."
How about you? What valuable work experiences and habits have you developed?

Job satisfaction is a gift from God. God wants everybody to enjoy his or her vocation. If you don't have job satisfaction, analyze the reasons. Is it because of your working conditions? Do you lack respect for the management? Do you doubt if you company's products or services are good for society? Or, do you have a basic incompatibility with the job itself? God may be urging you to look around and find another opportunity more in keeping with His gifts to you. The average American worker changes jobs seven times during his or her career.  Don't quit your present job before you find a new job, but by all means search.

The Lord wants us to look forward to going to work most mornings and to feel fulfilled at the end of most work days.  Be thankful for the work He has provided.

Scripture to Claim:
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.  Colossians 3:23-24

Sunday, August 28, 2011

God’s Straightedge – The Golden Rule

Matthew 7:12
The main body of Jesus’ sermon (5:17–7:11) closes with what has traditionally been called the Golden Rule.  Jesus summarizes the essence of God’s will as expressed in the Law and the Prophets by giving his hearers a general principle designed to govern human relationships in all circumstances.
If we compare ourselves to ourselves we come out pretty well.  Against God's straightedge we are not so fortunate.
Misunderstood, the "Golden Rule" has become for many a replacement of the gospel.  
  1. I. The Background - A Negative Form
This negative form can be satisfied by INACTION.
A negative form has no requirement that would lead to accomplishment.
Today's interpretation..."Do unto others before they do unto you." 
Distrust and fear cause us to live lives of protection and even aggression.
  1. II. The Statement By Jesus - A Positive Form
Jesus gave a "do" mission not a "do not" religion.
It is impossible for normal human beings to keep the Golden Rule in their own power.
Great achievements are not realized by living on the negative side of life. 
The Christian religion is not a negative religion, it is a positive mission to a lost and dying world.
  1. III. The Requirements for Effectiveness
We must recognize these things:
  • That this is written to disciples who know the God who gave to them. 
A natural man won't really know what others need.
  • That this requires a deep searching of needs in our own life
  • That this requires a deep searching of the peculiar needs of others.
  • That the command does not hinge on how they respond
  1. IV. The Golden Rule Sums Up Christian Relationships-
There are two aspects to religion: relation to God and relation to man.
We want to treat others as we would have them treat us, because this is the way God deals with me.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Blessing?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”  Matthew 7:7-11
You may possibly recognize the scripture for today from the sermon this past Sunday on Asking, Seeking and Knocking.  As was shared Sunday, it is God who knows what is best for us.  Although we feel certain we would be “blessed” by a certain gift, provision or circumstance, the truth is we are not capable of the discernment God has about such things.
Here is a story that may help us remember “In everything give thanks.”
The story is told of a king in Africa who had a close friend with whom he grew up.  The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) and remarking, "This is good!"
One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition.  The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king.  The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off.
Examining the situation, the friend remarked as usual, "This is good!"
To which the king replied, "No, this is not good!" and proceeded to send his friend to jail.
About a year later the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of.   Cannibals captured him and took him to their village.  They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake and bound him to the stake.
As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb.  Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole.  So untying the king, they sent him on his way.
As he returned home he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend.  He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend.
"You were right," he said, "it was good that my thumb was blown off."  And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened.  "And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long.  It was bad for me to do this."
"No," his friend replied, “This is good!"
"What do you mean, "This is good"?  How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?"
"If I had not been in jail, I would have been with you."                             Author Unknown
Before we declare the loss of a blessing or let feelings of regret fill us, it may be worthwhile to wait and see what God does with our circumstances.  He has a way of making all things good.
Scripture to Claim:
"Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'; (Isaiah 46:9-10)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Conscientious Reflection

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

It is one of the best times of the year for families.  Summer is over and it is time for things to start back up for school and all the activities; time to get going again.  This means it is time for the return of the routine.  This is when I like to reflect a little on the past year, take a look back at what was good and see what needs to be improved.  People naturally do this sort of thing when making new year resolutions.  With school starting up again, it’s important to me to look back and see where we can improve to make things easier.  I like to start the school year off with a fresh resolve to be all I can be for my family.  
I can always make the morning and evening routines better (although there is usually nothing routine about them!) and I continually aspire to cook more often fixing more nutritious meals for my family.  Along with these commitments will be one to better my relationship with God; to spend more time in prayer and Bible study every day and be an example to my children of living a Godly life and trusting God in everything.  I know when I improve my relationship with God, I will be more attentive to His direction and better equipped to minister to my family.  Changes such as these can make a difference in our families far beyond just school years.
Ah, what a wonderful word...prioritize.  It sounds so simple.  Just put the most important and pressing things at the top of the list.  The problem for me is that everything seems pressing; crushing me like the Rock of Gibraltar!  When things get going it gets crazy busy and tends to all blur my consideration of what is most important.  That is when I know I have to get my focus back on God and what He would want me to recognize as a priority for my family.  I know I can rely on Him to lead me and clear my vision when everything runs together and I feel so overwhelmed. 
Expectation and Anticipation
This time of year also brings thrilling anticipation for me.  There are so many exciting things happening and more coming just around the corner.  The start of the fall season, Thanksgiving and before you know it we will be singing Christmas Carols!  I look forward to the strides my kids will make this year in their schoolwork and eagerly wait to see what new strengths and talents they will discover in their lives.  I anticipate growth in their personal lives along with my own.  I will see them each develop a little more over this school year and inch a little closer toward adulthood.  How incredible it is to watch them morph into almost-grown people with unique talents and ideas.  To think about the plans God has for each one of them and how they are playing out right before my eyes is thrilling.  Watching this, I remember my heavenly Father is also watching me with anticipation.  I am His child and, just as I take pride in the accomplishments of my children, He is anticipating growth in my life.  What a good feeling!
Stress – The Joy Stealer
The hardest thing about this time of year is that in all the chaos of getting new clothes, school supplies, backpacks, and shoes, the joy can be drained right out of these special days.  These are the last days of summer, time to get it all in and get it all ready.  I can easily become so frustrated in the process of trying to do the best I can for my family that become a bear.  The last of the sweet summer moments are stolen by the demon of stress and the misconception that I have to have it all perfect for my family.  The truth is they don’t care (or even notice) if everything is perfect.  They would rather have a few special moments to remember.  Take time out from the stress and enjoy each other while you can.  The stores will still be open after school starts!
Scripture to Claim:
The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, "The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!" (NASB)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back to School?

Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are ZEALOUS for good works. Titus 2:14 (ESV)

Our summer is fading fast, and school is just around the corner. As I was reading through Titus this morning, I came across this verse about being "zealous for good works". The word zeal means eager desire or enthusiastic diligence. Since going back to school can sometimes be seen as negative (especially to some youth I know), I thought to share with you some faith-based back-to- school tips that will encourage your zeal for the Lord. Even if you're not in school, these same principles can be applied in your work and home. So here you go...
I. Get Enough Sleep.  (Rest in the Lord)
As parents we all know the benefits of getting our children to bed early on a school night. They need that added rest in order to get up early in the morning. A good night's sleep will work wonders on your attitude the next day and it will help your whole disposition. Resting in the Lord will also make you fit and ready for the day. It will recharge you.  
"Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him..."     Psalm 37:7
II. Eat a Healthy Breakfast.  (Have Prayer and Bible Study)
The experts all agree that giving a child breakfast before school helps in knowledge retention, test scores, and overall learning. As Christians we need to get a healthy breakfast of Bible study and prayer. Having some type of personal devotions will fuel you for the day.
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD;
in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.  Psalm 5:3 KJV
III. Follow The Rules. (Use the Bible as Your Guide)
School couldn't be productive if it weren't for the rules. We can all remember some of the basics. No fighting. No talking during class. No chewing gum. As Christians we have the best rule book of all. It covers all of the basics. We need to use it as a guide on a daily basis. All of those do's and don'ts in God's Word are there to help us live productive lives.
But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God, and keep it."  Luke 11:28 ESV
IV. Develop Good Work and Study Habits.   (Develop Good Bible Study Habits)
Children that develop good study habits are the ones who sail through school without major problems. We as Christians need to develop good study habits when it comes to God's Word. Knowing the Word is what is going to make or break us. We've got to know the Word of God in order to live it.
Study to show thyself approved unto God,a workman that needeth
not to be ashamed,rightly dividing the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15 KJV
V. Try Your Best.   (Do Your Best for Christ)
Teaching our children to do their best will bring results and they can be proud of themselves. It's rewarding to do your best. As Christians we need to strive to do our best in whatever we do. After all we are doing it to honor God.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,
not for human masters  Colossians 3:23 NIV
VI. Get Along With Your Classmates.  (Fellowship With Other Christians)
When children are taught to get along together at school it causes such a good atmosphere for learning. When we as Christians get along with each other and fellowship with one another, it causes more productive lives, which helps further the cause of Christ.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us. 1 John 1:7 NIV
VII. Get To Know Your Teacher.  (Know Christ More)
One of the first things a student needs to learn is what is expected of him from his teacher. How does that teacher deal with homework? With classroom policies? With grades? We need to know what Christ expects of us. Getting to know God will help us serve Him better.
May God be glorified in your life and may you have a zeal for the Lord in whatever this school year brings you.
Scripture to Claim:
And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.   1 Chronicles 28:9 KJV

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A New Vision for the New Church Year

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives. Commit your works to the LORD and your plans will be established. The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil. The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:1-4,9

As we read through scripture there is a repeated word that appears in relation to God’s direction of those He chooses to use.  The word is “vision”.  In the Old Testament we read of God’s guiding prophets and kings through visions.
In our day, we seem a bit skeptical when someone says they had a vision.  The term seems to imply a Technicolor dream complete with music and sound effects including deep voices and thunder.  Yet, scripture tells us in Proverbs 29:18, Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law. (NASB) The Message interpretation of this verse is right on!  It reads; If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed. (MSG)  We have all experienced that before.
At North Side, staff and leaders are beginning to look at the church year approaching and considering what the focus of our church will be and how we will carry it out.  While calendaring and programming is important, there is something that must occur prior to such plans...a vision.  It is not all that difficult to maintain programs and fill scheduled time slots with activities.  An abundance of various Bible studies and topical studies are available for that.  The real key is doing things that are relevant to meeting the needs of people in the church and community.  To accomplish that we must view people with the eyes of Christ and see what He sees.
Matthew tells us how Christ saw things.  Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." (Matthew 9:35-38)
As our staff looks over our church field, the needs are considered from a variety of perspectives.  Needs must be considered for preschoolers, grade school children, Jr. High students, High School students, young adults, singles, young married couples, median adults, senior adults, widows and widowers, music, evangelism, prayer, discipleship, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, missions, pastoral care, worship...and the list goes on.  For all of these there must be a vision before there is a relevant program to meet their needs.
So here we are facing a new church year and the challenge of our Mission Statement:
  • Through Worship, we will praise God’s greatness!
  • Through Education, we will prepare God’s people!
  • Through Evangelism and Missions, we will proclaim God’s message! 
  • Through Ministry and Fellowship, we will prove God’s love!
Pray for our staff, teachers and ministry leaders.  This is a critical time.
Scripture to Claim:
Commit your works to the LORD and your plans will be established.  Proverbs 16:3

Monday, August 22, 2011

He made the moon for the seasons

He made the moon for the seasons; The sun knows the place of its setting.  Psalm 104:19  
As I have grown older, it has occurred to me that I am a big fan of seasons.  I often thank the Lord for allowing me to live in a place where we get to experience, if only briefly in some cases, the wondrous blessings of nature’s seasons.  My daughter and I were talking about this the other day as we both looked forward to some cooler weather.  My explanation about my feelings went something like this; “When it’s really hot outside, I so look forward to the coolness of fall.  And when it’s really cold outside, I can’t seem to wait for spring to warm us up again.  It seems like I am never happy!”
As we worked through our mutual longing for summer to give way to fall it occurred to me what a wonderful rhythm God has given us in nature.  The trick it seems is in learning to enjoy where you are (hot, humid) while simultaneously knowing that cooler weather is on the way bringing the refreshing change we long for.
Looking back on my observations about the seasons, I begin to think that what I like most about them is the fact that they do change.  In my own estimation, I would go crazy without the variety that we experience in this part of the country.  Just 6 months ago, we were snowed in for 5 straight days!
One of the greatest promises of God is His promise
to change those who call upon His name.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  2 Corinthians 5:17
Becoming a new creature means that through God’s power we are changed.  And much like the observation that humans are powerless to bring about changes in the seasons, it is also accurate to observe that we are equally powerless to bring about change in ourselves.  It is God that changes the hearts of men.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.  2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Maybe as this long hot summer is winding down you find yourself longing for some changes to occur in your own life.  You look in the mirror and long for God to bring about some transformations in your own spirit.  If so, here are a couple of good places to start.
1) Read the Almanac (Bible)
We look to meteorologists and farmers almanacs to tell us about the coming weather, when really only God knows what tomorrow holds.  Scripture promises transformation to those who choose to renew their minds through the promises of Scripture.  (Romans 12:2)  A new season of growth awaits all who are willing to dust off their Bibles and take in the bounty that the Lord has waiting for them.
2) Pray for Rain
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,  So are My ways higher than your ways  And My thoughts than your thoughts.  10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,  And do not return there without watering the earth  And making it bear and sprout,  And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;  11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;  It will not return to Me empty,  Without accomplishing what I desire,  And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55:9-11
Friend, our Father has a great desire to bring you into a marvelous state of spiritual transformation.  Just as the coldest winter gives way to the beauty of spring, the Lord’s desire for all of his children is to be transformed more and more into His likeness every day.  Take hold of those promises and LIVE!  Really, really live the life He has waiting for you.
Scripture to Claim:
You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.  Psalm 16:11

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ask, Seek, Knock...Prayer That Prevails

Matthew 7:7-11
When properly understood, The Sermon on the Mount will leave every seeker of God with a deep sense of the need for God’s grace.  It is written to the ones who want to be a part of God’s Kingdom.  The broad context of the Sermon sets down the surpassing righteousness, humility, sincerity, purity, and love expected of those who are members of the Kingdom of God. These virtues are beyond human attainment apart from God’s grace.
A text without a context is pretext 
Jesus tells us how to pray for the character of the kingdom in our lives. 
In other words, what if prayer is not about requests, but relationship?
Nothing Succeeds Like Prayer:
Matthew 6:9-15 shares the content and authority of prayer while Matthew 7:7-11 speaks of assurance in prayer.
  1. I. The Persistent Perseverance of Prevailing Prayer v.7  
Ask” implies asking for a conscious need.
Seek,” involves asking but adds action.
Knock” includes asking, acting and persevering 
Things We Desire From God From Different Perspectives..
1. We ask for what we wish.
2. We seek for what we miss
3. We knock for access to some place or thing
We are to passionately persist in prayer for that which we need to be used by God.
We are to keep on asking, seeking and knocking for those things that will make us more like Jesus.
  1. II. The Personal Promise of Prevailing Prayer v.8
Prayer does not change God’s purpose, create His desire to give or persuade Him to give; it opens the way for Him to give.
“Prayer can do everything that God can do, and as God can do anything then prayer is omnipotent.” R.A.Torrey
  1. III. The Parental Passion of the Provider of Prayer v.9-11.
how much more” - Jesus reasons from the “lesser to the greater” to demonstrate God’s unfailing care for his own children.
We do not always know what is best for us.
You will not be satisfied in prayer if you only feel God answers when you get what you wanted.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Surviving Spiritual Drought – Pray for Rain

Now Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower." So Ahab went up to eat and drink. But Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth and put his face between his knees. He said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." So he went up and looked and said, "There is nothing." And he said, "Go back " seven times. It came about at the seventh time, that he said, "Behold, a cloud as small as a man's hand is coming up from the sea." And he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, 'Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.' " In a little while the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 1 Kings 18:41-45

I don’t necessarily like the counsel when it is given.  “Well brother, it sounds like you need to pray about it.”  When my situation is difficult, when my way is unclear, when my mind is confused and my emotions frustrated, I want answers.  I want clarity.  I want relief, and I want it delivered pronto! 

“Pray…”  Being told to simply pray can feel like a cheap response…a trite and predictable solution to complicated problems.  At least that’s what my emotional reaction can be.  However, it is also good counsel. 

Yesterday, we read 2 Chronicles 7:14 where God calls us to repent, humble ourselves and pray, seeking his face.  The scripture tells us that if we will do that, that God will hear from heaven and heal our land (including ourselves).  So here we are, praying for rain…literally, and figuratively.

One of our members called me a few weeks ago and said: “I don’t think we know how to pray…because we’ve been praying and it hasn’t been raining!”  In spiritual drought, the wait can be brutal.  When…When will God finally break my drought?  Why doesn’t he send the rain?  I don’t know.  But keep praying!

Elijah – “Go back and look again!”
It had been a long season of drought.  In fact it had been three years since God had closed up the heavens.  Streams had dried up and the whole land was suffering.  Finally, God told Elijah to inform Ahab that it was about to rain.  Elijah sent his servant to go and check out the clouds.  The report came back…nothing.  Clear skies.  “Go back and check again!” Elijah instructed.  Again, there were no clouds.  The scriptures record that while Elijah stayed on his face before God in prayer, he sent his servant back seven times to check the skies, and on the seventh time there was but a cloud the size of a man’s fist in the sky. Elijah told Ahab to get ready…Rain was coming! 

Sometimes, it’s next to impossible to keep up faith when we need rain and the skies haven’t a cloud. My heart doesn’t want to keep praying when I have been dry for so long.  In Elijah’s day, it hadn’t rained in three years!  What incentive was there to keep looking?  Faith.  Elijah KNEW that God had said it would rain again.

We often don’t know when our drought will come to an end, but we are instructed to keep praying for rain.  Though our time of spiritual drought seems like it will never end, we are encouraged to remember that since the beginning of time, not a single drought…NOT ONE has lasted.  Rain has always come!  Pray for Rain!!

Scriptures to claim:  
Many times He would deliver them; they, however, were rebellious in their counsel, and so sank down in their iniquity. Nevertheless He looked upon their distress when He heard their cry; and He remembered His covenant for their sake, and relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness.  Psalm 106:43-45

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Surviving Spiritual Drought – Stay In The Shade

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:4-7

Sometimes, I wish I were in control of all things, but I am not.  If I were, I would simply make the severe heat of these days go away.  I would bring the rain and alleviate the suffering of the masses that are enduring the oppressive heat. 

But I am not that powerful…and certainly not wise enough to bear that responsibility for the weather of the whole world.  But while God has not put me in charge of the weather, he has given me the good common sense to stay in the shade whenever possible!

So also will I seek the shelter of God during times of spiritual drought.
Recently, our church purchased a bus ticket for an elderly man who was hitch-hiking through Texas.  The man did not request a bus ticket, but I knew this man would likely die in the +100 degree temperatures trying to get to his home in another state.  He was doing his best with what he had, but exposure to the elements would be his undoing.  So we found a way for him to stay in the shade during the journey. If you are enduring spiritual drought, I want you to be in the shade too!  Where do you find that shade?  In the presence of the Lord.

As seen above in John 15, we are instructed to “abide in the Lord.” The word abide here is written to suggest a taking of residence.  We are to make the presence of the Lord our home as we live.

·      Matthew 11:28  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
 When we are going through spiritual drought, the flesh is pulling us away from the presence of God…away from the shade.  Yet Jesus calls us to the cool...back into the presence of God.  To get there, our steps must be intentional. 

·      Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”
While wandering through the desert of my own making, water is scarce and living water won’t be found.  When I seek the heart of God with my own heart, lost as I may be in my own situation, God reveals himself to me.  He guides me to his heart.  He renews my soul beside his still waters (see Psalm 23).  He leads me to the shade, and I must endeavor to remain there and not leave him for my own way.

Scriptures to claim: 
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust !" For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge ; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. Psalm 91:1-4

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Surviving Spiritual Drought – Stay Away From Fire

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  James 4:7-8

Perhaps you’ve noticed…dry things tend to catch fire and burn very easily.  This is particularly pertinent to us as we find ourselves enduring this season of atmospheric drought.  Burn bans have been instituted and fire fighters stand at the ready knowing their lives could get very busy at a moment’s notice.  Residents are taking extra precaution to ensure that fires aren’t even accidentally started. 

In times of spiritual drought, we are wise to exercise similar caution relative to our daily living and personal faith.  Why? Because when we are spiritually dry, we may be very flammable.  What do I mean by this?

In times of spiritual drought, I need to be aware of my own ‘combustibility.’ 
·      Spiritual drought may make me susceptible, vulnerable to temptation or worldly behavior. I may even fall back into past sins that I had previously had victory over.  I am wise to acknowledge that tendency and set countermeasures into action.

·      My temperament may be stressed during times of spiritual dryness.  I am wise to remember to separate how I feel inside from the realities that others live in around me.  Patience and gentle responses can help keep me from alienating others when I am feeling the drought.

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…
Romans 12:2 counsels: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Much of what I suffer during spiritual drought is not because God has changed – because He hasn’t, or because He isn’t there – because surely He is. It is because I have changed.  My way of thinking, perceiving, relating and reacting have changed…because I have become dry.  Therefore, the place to begin combating spiritual drought is in my mind.  Philippians 4:8 provides us a starting place: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

We also need to set up ‘fire-breaks.’ 
While surviving drought, we are wise to set boundaries on where we are unwilling to go…to stay away from fire.  When in seminary, I had so much reading and studying to do for my classes, and television was such a welcome distraction.  However, if I gave in to the temptation to watch rather than read, it would mean certain death to my surviving the rigorous class schedule.  Yet time and again, I would find myself plopping down in front of the tube “for only a moment”…only to get lost in a program and lose an hour.  Finally, I taped a sign across the television screen that read “Don’t Even Think About It!”  For that season, I had to completely remove that particular temptation from my life.  I was too flammable to risk it.  I had to focus on other things.  Maybe you need to think about setting some limits to protect you from fire too.

Scriptures to claim: 
Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.  Psalm 141:4

In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them.  Proverbs 22:5

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